29 things I learnt at #ConfDF – my first Discovering Futures Conference

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of heading down to that London to speak at the latest Discovering Futures event – a day focussed on using social media for student recruitment. My session was about Instagram (surprise, surprise!) and seemed to go well…thanks to those who sat in on it!

As an added bonus, I got to join the conference as a delegate too, and there was plenty of good learning to be had. I always find that turning my scribbled notes into a blog post at a conference helps me really sort out the good bits, so here’s 29 things I took away from yesterday’s session.

1. When the building you’re going into has separate lifts depending on which floor you’re travelling to, you know you’re in a very tall building – I’ve certainly never presented on the 32nd floor before!

2. Jim Tudor’s opening session looking at 10 trends from the digital landscape was the ideal opener and was full of inspiring and interesting examples to take away – 45 examples, to be precise.

3. One such example was how the University of Birmingham approaches its online mentoring scheme, where they connect potential postgraduate students with those who have already studied at that level, so the former can ask questions of the latter. Simple, but effective.

4. Apple – yes, THAT Apple – only got round to joining Twitter when Apple Music launched. Even now, they don’t use it for brand promotion as such; instead, it’s used as a customer support channel, where they’ll often reply with videos, GIFs or screenshots to show users how to do something. Perhaps Universities could adopt this walkthrough approach when dealing with queries about how to enrol?

5. Get your students involved to show what life is like on campus! Duke gets real students to read the news every week in a 60-second video.

6. Deakin University in Australia went all-out for their open days, producing an immersive, VR tour of their campus in the style of a flight simulator. They’ve since repurposed the film into a 360 video that anyone can watch and explore at any time

7. Sticking with Deakin, they’re also a great example of how the hashtag is far from dead; they ask their students who are studying abroad to share content using the hashtag #DeakinAbroad – these posts are then pulled to a central page, which any potential student with an interest in spending time in a different country can explore and see what current students are getting up to. Again, simple but effective.

8. Thinking of a Snapchat filter for your campus or for a specific event? Snapchat recognises the charitable status of Universities and, as such, will charge you less for the filters.

9. The marketing team at King’s College London must be huuuuuge. There were 22 of them at this event – 22! – and that wasn’t event the whole squad! Wowzers.

10. My favourite session was Mark Higginson’s talk about the efficacy of social media – if you get chance to see him speak I urge you to take it.

11. As Mark said, social media has failed to deliver on its big promise of offering customer insight. He used Brandwatch for eight years and discovered no useful insight from it, which means you can’t really use social media tools to start conversations.

12. ‘Brand love’ is not a business objective.

13. Brands are rarely brave – they’re often bland – but the few brave ones out there get talked about naturally, rather than having to themselves into the conversation. Apple are a fine example of a brave brand.

14. Ever pondered the value of a like? Check out this short film

15. Web advertising and media buying is becoming increasingly difficult to get value from for student recruitment – especially when 47% of 18-24 year olds are now sing ad blockers on their phones. Oh, that and the fact that 15% of click-throughs are accidental.

16. However, in-app advertising on social media platforms is an option that will give you a return; native, in-app ads don’t get filtered by ad blockers.

17. Facebook is soon to allow you to include Messenger on your website, which could be huge for the customer service side of student recruitment.

18. There is no demand problem for University marketing teams – we’ve all got a conversion problem.

19. Even though I didn’t get to go to his session, it was wonderful to catch up with Barney Brown for a bit.

20. This is useless to you reading this now…but the lunch was REALLY tasty!

21. According to Alicia Liu, when dealing with Chinese social media you should make your your content engaging and satisfy the curiosity of those students.

22. Mobile growth in China is mind-boggling. In 2011, mobile penetration was 0%. Just four years later it was 25%!

23. WeChat has 1.1bn users. That’s a lot.

24. WeChat isn’t just about chat. Within the app, you’ll find integration with Uber, the ability to book a table at a restaurant (and get a discount too), buy cinema tickets, sort your utility bill direct debits and pay for just about everything. In fact, so many places now only take payment via WeChat that you almost HAVE to be on the platform to live in China.

25. It was also great to see my friend Alistair Beech from the University of Central Lancashire, who was also speaking.

26. Alistair pointed out that, when it comes to using social media for recruitment, you should focus on telling your brand’s story. That means showing what your institution is known for and where it could take a prospective student.

27. Also, stop thinking like a University. You’re a brand.

28. Look at native advertising to help get your message across and widen your reach – UCLan recently took the plunge and did some promoted content on the publishing behemoth Buzzfeed.

29. When it comes to amazing views, London from 32 floors up is pretty darned good.


Thanks so much to Robert Hawker for inviting me to speak and the Discovering Futures team for a great day – see you again soon!


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